Posted: March 19, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There was a Prague Spring, and there was an Arab Spring, both of them movements to let the people go, in the season made for hope and affirmation.

So there the Democrats were the other night in something of an imitation, wondering if they had the heart in the most conservative part of Delaware for a Sussex County Spring?

The Democrats in Sussex County usually have more of a silent spring.

Not to mention a silent fall, as well. This was the place that Christine O'Donnell and the Tea Party Republicans carried by 30,000 votes. This was the state's only county that went Republican for John McCain and Mitt Romney, even though Joe Biden was on the Democratic ticket -- or maybe, since this was Sussex, because Joe Biden was on the other ticket?

The Sussex Democrats have been the underachievers in a party that otherwise has grown mighty in Delaware. The Democrats have the governor, the congressional delegation, all of the statewide officeholders except for the auditor, and control of the General Assembly.

The Sussex Democrats have a clerk of the peace. Throw in one state senator, a couple of state representatives and a lone county councilwoman, and that is it.

The Sussex Democrats met Saturday in Georgetown at the CHEER Center for their spring dinner, an event they seemed determined would not be mistaken for just another night of the living dead.

It was good they went to a place called "cheer." It was even better to get 200 Democrats there.

Geography has practically become destiny in Delaware, awash in Democratic blue in the more populous climes upstate and covered in Republican red in the more rural reaches downstate.

Still, the Sussex Democrats were acting as though they were game for a turnaround. They have installed a new slate of party officials, led by Mitch Crane as the chair, who was last seen losing a Democratic primary for insurance commissioner in 2012.

Their aims for the next election in 2014 are modest, simply to pick up a legislator here and a county official there, by piggybacking on a statewide ticket topped by Chris Coons for senator, Beau Biden for attorney general and John Carney for congressman, incumbents all.

"They're off to a good start. The new officers, all of them, look like they're committed. I'm optimistic for Sussex County," said John Daniello, the Democratic state chair, who attended the spring dinner.

Coons and Biden also showed up for the event, along with Matt Denn, the lieutenant governor, and Chip Flowers, the state treasurer.

So did Bryon Short and Darryl Scott, a pair of state representatives not from there. Short is from Brandywine Hundred in New Castle County, and Scott is from Dover in Kent County. Probably it is just a coincidence they are often mentioned as having statewide ambitions, for auditor or whatever.

"In this business, you never say never," cracked Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker who is Sussex County's highest elected official.

Coons gave the keynote speech, praising the Sussex Democrats' dedication.

"There are these folks in Sussex County who think the Democrats are a small, hunted minority, that they are on their way to extinction," he teased. "You're not here because being a Sussex Democrat is easy. You're not here because your neighbors are glad when you put up a sign that says Chris Coons. You're willing to stand up for something."

Coons might be the only one who wants the Sussex Democrats to do well more than they do.

It grew out of his experience in 2010 at Return Day, the post-election celebration in Georgetown with a parade of the winners and losers riding together and a ceremonial burying of the hatchet.

While Coons easily won statewide, he lost Sussex to O'Donnell, and as a New Castle County man himself, it had escaped his notice that the town crier at Return Day only ever gives the Sussex election tallies.

"The results are being read, and for the United States Senate, the winner, Christine O'Donnell!" Coons intoned, his eyes widening in mock shock, to knowing laughter from the Sussex Democrats.

"Carney says to me, it's Sussex County. I want to win Sussex County!"